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Thread: Cleaning Leather

  1. #1
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    Cleaning Leather

    I am putting this thread here because the thread "Can I Get Some Input On Aprons"

    ia what caused me to write this one.

    There was a mention of a negative trait of leather for an apron. The negative trait was cleaning it. Making things with leather was a hobby of mine for a few years. There is a lot of bug-a-boo about cleaning leather. I would guess that it is stimulated by the cleaning people.

    How did I clean my leather coats? Well, I washed them. I was very chicken hearted when I first laundered an expensive semi-dress leather coat. I got braver as I cleaned more objects. I would gently hand wash the object in cold water with a mild detergent, rinse in cold water, and hang up to dry after smoothing out the material. I woould work the material gently once-in-a-while to keep it from stiffening or shrinking. Myrna was braver. She would launder in the washing machine. She would use the most gentle cycle and use less than average amount of a mild laundry detergent and then hang it out to dry. She would "blot" absorb much of the moisture prior to hanging.

    Myrna's method worked very well until she forgot and put my $175 leather coat in the dryer. The coat came out in perfect condition and just the right size for an organ grinder's monkey. By the way that $175 coat was purchased when you could buy an equipped Chevrolet for less than $2,000. That was a real expensive monkey coat.

    If you want to wash a shop apron, go for it. If you want to wash a $900 leather coat, I would suggest you try some other things first so you can correct your mistakes, if you make any, cheaper. Do "work" your leather a bit as it dries so it does not get stiff. This was written to get you thinking. Your library can probably obtain books for you on Leather Working. I would imagine that many of the books would contain a chapter on cleaning. And, just like woodworking, many techniques are the same and many have improved drastically over time.

    Enjoy,
    JimB
    First of all you have to be smarter than the machine.
    VOTING MEMBER

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
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    The Gorge Area, Oregon
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    I feel your pain having ruined a few pieces of this and that over the years!

    Its worth knowing what type of leather you have. While I'd be "ok" washing oil or chrome tanned leather if you do that with vegetable tanned you'd better be prepared to spend a whole lot of time working it as it dries or it'll be stiff as a board! If you do wash oil tanned leather an oil top coat once its dry won't hurt it none. Chrome tanned is a bit fussier about that (really somewhat porous so it'll soak up a lot of oil and then bleed it out over time) so I wouldn't recommend top dressing chrome tanned much. Odds are good that a shop apron is oil tanned and then a bit less that its chrome tanned. I'd be real surprised to find one that is vegetable tanned so Jims advice is likely to be spot on 99% of the time.

    Also practically speaking you can mostly just brush leather off of lightly wet the surface and scrub with a soft brush. So I don't really see this as a huge negative trait once you consider the tradeoff of the increased longevity vs canvas. I have an elkhide shirt that's about 100 years old and its still darn near as good as new (and no I don't really wear it much, its more of a family keepsake at this point).

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    Location
    Oceanside, So. Calif. 5 mi. to the ocean
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    Ryan,

    You better get to wearing that shirt or you won't wear it out if it only has another 100 years of useful life.

    I know shat you mean by "family keepsake." I have a light bulb that was in use when I was born (1925). It was in constant use in a walk in closet until the folks built a new house in 1941. I took the bulb (reason is a long sort'a sentimental story that I won't put in here) and have used it occasionally to show someone that it still works. They just don't make them like that any more.

    Glad that you made additions to the cleaning leather. I just washed it because that is what an instructor said to do. I had no idea about kinds of tanning and their effect so I was just lucky with my choice of articles to clean. (Not so lucky with the dryer however.) I guess the teacher wasn't smart enough to educate us on the tanning process or he just assumed that we would only be cleaning things made in class.

    Thanks again and Enjoy,
    JimB
    Last edited by Jim C Bradley; 07-12-2013 at 08:50 PM.
    First of all you have to be smarter than the machine.
    VOTING MEMBER

  4. #4
    Join Date
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim C Bradley View Post
    Ryan,

    You better get to wearing that shirt or you won't wear it out if it only has another 100 years of useful life.

    I know what you mean by "family keepsake." I have a light bulb that was in use when I was born (1925). It was in constant use in a walk in closet until the folks built a new house in 1941. I took the bulb (reason is a long sort'a sentimental story that I won't put in here) and have used it occasionally to show someone that it still works. They just don't make them like that any more.

    Glad that you made additions to the cleaning leather. I just washed it because that is what an instructor said to do. I had no idea about kinds of tanning and their effect so I was just lucky with my choice of articles to clean. (Not so lucky with the dryer however.) I guess the teacher wasn't smart enough to educate us on the tanning process or he just assumed that we would only be cleaning things made in class.

    Thanks again and Enjoy,
    JimB
    Jim, thinking back on it I've only ever actually worn that shirt once. This does remind me I probably ought to dig it out and dust it off though. Good to do that every 10 years or so anyway

    One other trick is if you rub some DRY clay into a piece of leather and then thump it out it takes a lot of the grease and oil (and attached dirt) with it. In the olden days they'd clean wool garments the same way.

    Funny on the lightbulb good story. If you've never seen this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebus_cartel - you're correct they don't make them like they used to and its probably intentional.

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